I was seventeen years old when dad returned from the Titanic expedition. And I remember the look on his face as he watched mine taking in the video playing on our VHS machine.
Silt, that much was obvious. And an oppressive darkness against which the lights of the unmanned sub prevailed only barely as tiny particles floated through sea water.
A sudden scratching sound. And then a bump knocking the sub sideways — or, rather, a bumping into something that caused the craft to pivot away from its vantage point to face another direction just as bleak.
A boulder came into view just then. Covered with “…barnacles?” I wondered out loud.
“Well, she’d been under two miles of water since 1912.”
“That’s one of her prop blades. We found her.”
A week earlier he had managed his way into the lab of the expedition vessel as the scientists and engineers sifted through images transmitted from the camera attached to the sub two miles beneath the surface. As a photograph emerged from the printer it would trade hands down the line of the large table in the middle of the lab. Scrutinized by one specialist after another, it would end up in a pile at the end where it would ultimately be catalogued among thousands of other images taken during the, thus far, fruitless expedition.
Indeed, this was the last day the team would be out on the Atlantic before returning empty-handed. It was this disappointing resignation that made way for dad’s theory to be tested. There was nothing to lose. Well…not exactly nothing, given that the sub being dragged along the ocean floor was twin to the one lost when the line snapped sending millions of dollars of technology into oblivion.
Still, dad had convinced Jack Grimm, the expedition’s benefactor, to attempt one last dive. Not where they’ve been searching but in a location suggested only by a single, obscure line he’d read in the transcript of the hearings held after her sinking. The only further corroboration came from the memories of a few survivors he’d interviewed during years of his own research and study.
“We’d been looking for days in the spot she should have been — in the area she was supposed to be according to the coordinates of her last distress signals. But she wasn’t there. Nothing was there. And while that really disheartened the expedition team, I was becoming more and more intrigued because I’d remembered that one line from the transcripts: the claim that, after she hit the ice berg, she came to a full stop — but then restarted her engines and sailed on at full power. For about 45 minutes. So if that was true, she wouldn’t be where we’d been looking. She’d be over here.”
During the hearings the claim was overlooked as wholly inconsequential. But it was precisely this sort of information that regularly niggled its way into dad’s memory to one day, somehow or another, emerge in some detail of one of his maritime paintings.
“I convinced Mr. Grimm to send down the sub and the sonar equipment one last time. It was a huge gamble, but time was running out and it was in the direction of our return anyway. He agreed. Simple as that.”
The printer spat out a new image about every 8 seconds. Lights blinked, equipment hummed and whirred, voices once hopeful and expectant now took on a tone of defeat. The team had expended every ounce of its energy and expertise only to come up short.
Dad maneuvered himself between several scientists to make his way to the table covered with charts, schematics, photographs and all manner of measuring paraphernalia. Prior this last day at sea, he’d made a point of staying out of the lab and out of everyone else’s way as much as possible. But by now he’d befriended several people and chanced his presence in the room.
After the sub was bumped and her camera was photographing the endless silt, the small rocks, and the large boulder, the crew miles above was sending the images down the row of people huddled in the cramped space. And when this particular photograph made its way into dad’s hand, he knew immediately what it really was.
“I muttered to myself, ‘…we found her,’ and I just happened to say it during one of those natural lulls in the background noise of a room. So everyone heard me say it. One of the scientist raised his voice and said, ‘Who said that? Found what?!’ Every eye in the lab rested on me. I felt two inches tall because I technically wasn’t supposed to be in the lab. But I knew what I was looking at. I knew it with every cell in my body."
“That’s not a rock. That’s a prop blade. We found her. We found the Titanic.”
Mayhem. Shock. Yelling. A command to feed the photograph’s information back into the computer. Tones. Beeping. Sonar equipment simultaneously confirming the image with the sudden outline of a behemoth structure lying on the ocean floor. Then a computer aligning the photograph to the schematic of the Titanic’s propellors.
“We found her.”